Did Terrorist Pilots Train at U.S.
"The only real news you get
after something big is in the first couple of days."
In addition to having been
inducted into the U.S. flight training program by two Dutch-owned flight
schools in Venice, Florida, as many as six of the terrorists, including
ringleader Mohammed Atta, also received training at U.S. military facilities,
according to a flurry of stories between Sept 15 and 17 in the Washington
Post, Newsweek, and Knight Ridder newspapers.
The story had an extremely
Newsweek reported that "U.S.
military sources have given the FBI information that suggests five of the
alleged hijackers of the planes used in Tuesday's terror attacks received
training at secure U.S. military installations in the 1990s."
Knight Ridder’s news account
was more specific. It said Mohamed Atta had attended International Officers
School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. In addition, Abdulaziz
Alomari had attended Aerospace Medical School at Brooks Air Force base
in Texas, they reported, and Saeed Alghamdi had been to the Defense Language
Institute in Monterrey, California.
If true, these reports would
have dealt a blow to the consensus portrait then emerging of the terrorist
cadre as puritanical Islamic fundamentalists.
Indeed, if foreign nationals
who would eventually become terrorist pilots were training at the
Pensacola Naval Air Station, or going through the U.S. Air Forces’ International
Officer’s School at Maxwell Air Force Base, they would most likely have
had connections to Arab governments considered friendly to the United States.
Official denial was swift,
but strangely worded. The italics are ours:
"Officials stressed that
the name matches may not necessarily mean the students were the hijackers
because of discrepancies in ages in other personal data."
"Some of the FBI suspects
had names similar to those used by foreign alumni of U.S. military courses,"
said the Air Force in a statement. "However, discrepancies in their biographical
data, such as birth dates 20 years off, indicate we are probably not talking
about the same people."
"Probably not talking about
the same people" does not quite strike the right note of decisive certitude
that we would expect when discussing the identities of the people who have
just been responsible for the deaths of 6000 more-or-less vaporized Americans.
But Air Force spokesmen are
apparently more persuasive in person than when reading a press release
over the telephone, because Newsweek, the Washington Post and Knight Ridder
all dropped the story.
Nothing has been reported
about this since. Nada. Niente.
Could a cover-up be underway?
Could the original information that "leaked out" in early press reports
have been true...and then suppressed in America's free press?
Or is this just six separate-but-innocent
cases of mistaken identity?
Did (terrorist pilot) Mohamed
Atta attend International Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base in
Montgomery, Ala? Did (terrorist) Abdulaziz Alomari study at Aerospace Medical
School at Brooks Air Force base in Texas? Was (terrorist) Saeed Alghamdi
at the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, California?
It seemed easy enough to
find out. Deploy MadCow Team Coverage. Find out.
Here's the answer: "Nobody
News reports Sept. 16 had
asserted, "Officials would not release ages, country of origin or any other
specific details of the three individuals."
Over three weeks later, nothing
When Newsweek's Internet
site reported that three of the hijackers received training at the Pensacola
Naval Station in Florida, Senator Nelson had faxed an indignant note to
Attorney General Ashcroft demanding to know if it were true.
A former Navy pilot had told
Newsweek that during his years on the base, "we always, always, always
trained other countries' pilots. When I was there two decades ago, it was
Iranians. The shah was in power. Whoever the country du jour is, that's
whose pilots we train."
We called the office of Florida
Democratic Senator Bob Nelson. We were hoping to hear more about the country
The Senator has not yet received
"In the wake of those reports
we asked about the Pensacola Naval Air Station but we never got a definitive
answer from the Justice Department," said a spokesman for Sen. Nelson.
"So we asked the FBI for an answer ‘if and when’ they could provide
us one. Their response to date has been that they are trying to sort through
something complicated and difficult."
"If and when."
"Speaking for Senator Nelson,"
concluded the spokesman, "we still do not know if three of the terrorists
trained at one time in Pensacola or not."
"Complicated and difficult."
We reached a Major in the
Air Force's Public Affairs Office who was familiar with the question, she
said, because she had read the initial Air Force denial to the media.
not the same people," she explained to us patiently. "Some of the ages
are twenty year off."
'Some' of the ages? We told
her we were only interested in Atta. Was she saying that the age of the
Mohamed Atta who attended the Air Force's International Officer's School
at Maxwell Air Force Base was different than the terrorist Atta's age as
Um, er, no, the Major admitted.
Stiil, she persisted. "Mohamed is a very common name."
We asked if the Registrar
of the International Officer's School might provide us with the name and
address of this second Mohamed Atta, so that we might call him and confirm
that there were really two Mohamed Atta's of about the same age pursuing
flight training in the U.S. at about the same time.
"I don't think you're going
to get that information," the Major replied.
Yesterday, FBI Agents
were ordered to curtail their investigation of the Sept. 11 attack, in
an order describing the investigation of the terrorist hijackings as "the
most exhaustive in its history."
"The investigative staff
has to be made to understand that we're not trying to solve a crime now,"
said one law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity
The order was said to have
met with resistance from FBI agents who believed that continued surveillance
of suspects might have turned up critical evidence to prove who orchestrated
the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Officials said Mr. Mueller,
who was sworn in last month, believed that his agents had a broad understanding
of the events of Sept. 11.
It was now time to Move On.
Did some of the hijackers
receive training in U.S. military exchange programs for foreign officers?
Was terrorist "ringleader' Mohamed Atta a puritanical Islamic fundamentalist?
Or an Arab double agent?
This week's best headline
comes from the plucky and hopefully spore-free folks over at the National
I Dated a Terrorist!
Horrified Girlfriend Tell
"He didn't seem to me to
have any evil qualities," Kristen says now. "That's the scary thing--that
you never know. You never know."
TOMORROW: Rudi Dekker, Businessman
& Venice Dutch Boy; ; Mohamed Atta, Islamic Fundamentalist with a (lime)